|Photo: Riverside Transit Agency|
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
This week's tip will show how you can make public transportation access better for seniors who live far from a fixed bus route by exploring fiscally sound solutions and encouraging your elected representative to act. Last week, The Riverside Transit Agency got some hard press --some of which was unfair--after Congressman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) released the report "Public Transportation in Riverside County: How to Break Down Barriers to Access for the Disabled and Elderly." The problems Takano raises is very true and I'll provide some fair solutions on how we really can "break down" these barriers without breaking the taxpayer's wallet.
But first, here are your views on various transportation stories from the week:
In reference to your Aug 25 on the "talking points" blog, a regional connection that is not being adequately served is the transit gap between San Bernardino & Riverside Counties. The only adequate service seen is RTA's rout 204 which only operates peak hours, leaving riders to rely on local routes, which in turn can make a trip to opposite ends of the IE a multiple hour ordeal. If this could be address I'd greatly appreciate it. -Horacio Hernandez/Facebook
|Circuitous: Try to explain how one can get to Ontario from Eastvale or Norco quickly by bus.|
Map: Riverside Transit Agency
Many transit upgrades will be necessary to improve inter-county connections, especially at the west side. For example, bus transit routes on each end of the county line in the Eastvale and Ontario areas currently follow a design pattern that does not consider direct connections between two major activity nodes: The Eastvale Gateway and Ontario Mills Mall bus transfer hubs. The only inter-agency transit connection in this area involves a circuitous ride to the Country Village transfer point north of Mira Loma with many transfers. Check out our recent post for more details.
A connector running on I-15 is probably the most crucial and both RCTC and SanBAG need to make sure that their HOT/(HOV) proposals include either direct stations for a freeway-running BRT (probably realistically just at Foothill Blvd.) or dedicated access ramps to the lanes at key transit/park & ride points. marven/Transit Talking Points Blog
|Coalition Concept: I-15 HOT lanes between the I-10 and SR-60.|
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or any public entity.
Getting Southern California seniors moving
Getting back to the subject of the tip, Takano is correct in his finding that there is a mobility issue with the growing number of seniors living in areas far from public transportation. Just go to places like Temecula Valley Wine Country, La Cresta Heights, De Luz, or Anza. These areas which are far from public transit all have seniors and disabled people living there. However, much of the local press coverage of the report was one-sided which gave RTA a bad image unfairly with the reader implication that Riverside County seniors have poor access to the bus transit system. In fact, The Press Enterprise was the only major media source that I found that actually took the time to network with the transit agency, gets its response, and provided a balanced report even though the headline still makes a bold claim that "seniors have poor access to public transportation".
The truth is many Riverside County seniors live near RTA's service area and have good access to public transit with RTA's paratransit and Travel Training programs. But we cannot leave the people who live far from an RTA bus stop in the dark. The fact is RTA simply cannot solve the mobility issues of these people raised by Takano on its own. The county itself, the cities and the federal government need to get involved and provide real solutions.
Also we must be careful about the notion of simply throwing more money and federal rules at this problem. For starters, running additional RTA-operated fixed route services through low density areas certainly would have to be part of a larger through-route that connects in between two or more higher density activity centers in order to be productive with a strong ridership base.
|Photo: Riverside Transit Agency|
But spending more tax money is not the answer. Let me restate: RTA cannot solve this issue alone and the federal government simply cannot afford to be spending massive amounts of money toward paratransit travel given the fact that the national debt is already approaching $18 trillion. To be fair, Takano does has some workable solutions written out such as ensuring adequate transit funding and expanding Travel Training programs, although I certainly would suggest that such transit ambassador programs include volunteers. The North County Transit District's Transit Budy program is an example.
Takano and other members in Congress should continue to address, debate, and solve this problem and propose real solutions that would not require any major federal spending. A workable and debatable idea would be to allow private citizens and non-profit service organizations to get more directly involved in transporting seniors who live more than 3/4 mile of fixed route transit services. The service would be powered by using private vehicles with volunteer man power and efficient federal safety oversight. Administrative expenses for the program would be privately funded. Aside from implementation and training expenses, the only major ongoing taxpayer cost for operations would be reimbursements for fuel milleage at the AAA rate, a minor transit cost that won't bankrupt the nation and would stimulate the private non-profit sector. In fact, the rider fare might be able to cover that expense fully for short-range trips
This solution could be part of the Recruiting Individuals to Drive Our Elders Act. Such services would be fiscally friendly and could be integrated into existing transit agency paratransit programs. If planned right, the end-result would be improved door-to-door public transit mobility at a fraction of existing paratransit costs. Such reform could allow agencies like RTA to not only save big on paratransit expenses, but also expand Dial-A-Ride services further into the distant suburbs and rural areas without bankrupting its operating budget. The service would be so fiscally conservative to the taxpayer that such an option could even be open to the general public as well, allowing for an efficient way to link rural and tract neighborhoods with the bus system.
Transportation Tip: Search for "senior volunteer transportation services" on the internet and check out the existing services offered both by cities and the private non-profit sector. Explore the examples out there and encourage your representative in Congress to consider adopting some of those ideas into future transportation bills so that seniors and the disabled who live far from the fixed bus routes have more options to get around.